Reading between the lines, children in Denmark are increasingly shunning books – study

PIRLS assessment of comprehension skills of children aged 10 and 11 confirms country’s worst ever performance

Foreign parents of children growing up in Denmark are often pleasantly surprised by the education system.

From the emphasis on play and empathy at the nation’s daycare institutions, to the inclusive approach to social and cultural activities at the public schools, the system tends to produce well-rounded, tolerant individuals.

But there are also shortcomings – or at least in the eyes of some international parents. The late start to formal schooling means children in Denmark don’t tend to master the alphabet until they’re seven years old.

And this, of course, hinders children who might otherwise have wanted to read a book on their own.

Not as easy as ABC
So maybe it’s not surprising to note that Denmark has scored its lowest ever score in the quinquennial international PIRLS reading test that assesses the reading capability of children aged 10 and 11.

PIRLS not only tests the children’s ability to read, but also to understand or critically appraise texts, and the 2021 study revealed that 25 percent of Danish children struggle in this respect.

“Nothing has happened to the best readers, but our weak readers have become weaker, and there have been more of them,” commented Simon Skov Fougt, a lecturer at Danmarks institut for Pædagogik og Uddannelse, according to DR.

However, comparatively, the Danish results were nowhere near the worst compared to other countries. Conducted in more than 60 countries, Denmark finished in the top third.

Dwindling interest domestically
The same is not true of leisure time reading, however, for which Denmark finds itself in the bottom two alongside Norway. 

Since the last PIRLS assessment in 2016, Danish children have become considerably less interested in reading outside school – a trend most noticeable among girls, who tend to be better readers than boys.

The correlation between the lack of interest and reduced capability is obvious, according to Fougt, who urges action. 

“We must uncover the reasons for the declining enjoyment of reading, and then we will find a way to increase their motivation for reading in their free time,” he said.

Certain domestic factors certainly play a part, suggested Fougt, who believes that parents’ reading habits, the dominant language spoken at home, and fatigue and hunger can all affect reading habits.